28 November 2008

Irish Health Insurance becomes unaffordable

Another day, another outrage or scandal. This is the life now in modern Ireland, under the most careless and incompetent government imaginable.

Today's outrage is that the two main health insurance companies in Ireland, VHI and Quinn Healthcare, announced substantial price increases, to take effect in the New Year.

VHI has announced it is increasing its prices by 23% (!!!) from January 2009, while Quinn Healthcare said that it is to raise its insurance premiums by an average of 16% and in some cases up to 19%!

The announcements came out of the blue and have hit the people of Ireland unprepared, at a time of severe economic recession and a serious financial crisis that affects everyone, from the largest companies to the last unemployed youngster.

In case of the VHI it also follows a long chain of continuous price hikes over the past few years. Last year their premium went up by 8.5%, and in 2005 and 2006 by 12.5% per annum. This is an increase in health insurance costs of one third over three years, and - adding today's price rise to it - of 56.5% over four years.
Although many things have become more expensive over the years, there is no evidence that in fact the costs for providing health care have risen by more than eleven times the inflation rate in the short period of four years. So what we see here from VHI is nothing but plain extortion.

Both companies are trying to excuse the announced price increase with the new health insurance levy, which - they claim - "is twice its intended rise of 8%".

Anyone who has the slightest bit of common sense and at least some knowledge of mathematics will know that this is hogwash.

The real reason for this scandalous - and for most people unaffordable - increase in premiums is that the insurance companies want to streamline their membership. Their main target is to push many older and poor people, who are more likely to need medical and hospital treatment, off their books. Thus they will become more profitable, which will please their share holders.

On the Live Line programme on RTÉ Radio 1 there were already many calls today, all from distressed and outraged Irish people, who realised that they can no longer afford their health insurance. Some have been cancelling their policies already today, others are in despair, not knowing what to do.

Thank you, Mary Harney, for making Ireland's health service even more American, unfair and unaffordable as it is already!

For an average family the price rise will mean about € 400 extra payment for health insurance per annum. For people on low incomes, and for recipients of ordinary state pensions, this is simply impossible.
And there are even a lot of the younger people who - now that we are in a recession - will find it extremely difficult to afford the additional payment, which is more than four times the inflation rate with VHI and three times with Quinn.

The Minister for Health Mary Harney (left) came out today rather fast and said sheepishly that she was "very concerned about the rise", describing it as a "major burden for families".

Of course this is an immense burden for families, and for everyone who is single as well. We don't need 'Miss Piggy' to tell us so.

In fact, her statement adds insult to injury, as it was Mary Harney herself who removed the ministerial regulation from the health insurers. Thus they can now raise their prices as they please, no longer controlled or restricted by the government. (Under the old rules any increase in health insurance would have to be approved by the Minister, who could object to it within 28 days after it was announced.)

Mary Harney has no concerns for the Irish people, their health and well-being, and least of all for their financial problems. She lives in the cosy cocoon of another world, perhaps even another planet. She never sees sick people and is only concerned with the ever more radical privatisation of hospitals and health services, so her friends in the private health industry can rake in ever more and ever larger profits.

On the Live Line programme today it was mentioned that an ordinary (public) general hospital in Ireland is now charging a patient the outrageous sum of € 4,300 per day, just for the bed and the little food that is served. Operations and other medical treatments are charged extra (but surprisingly often less costly than just the bed, which is there all the time anyway).

And if that were not scandalous enough, one caller reported that his sick wife was charged the princely sum of € 12,000 per day for a bed in a private hospital in Dublin.
This is even beyond the level of a scandal. This is criminal extortion!

It is also another example of the utterly corrupt culture Fianna Fáil and the PDs have created in Ireland over the past eleven years they have been in government. Under their leadership ever more money is given to their rich and super-rich friends, while the ordinary and hard-working people of Ireland are ever more squeezed and robbed of the little they have.

As regular readers of this weblog will know, I am no friend of the British and their 750 years of colonial rule over this island. But in all fairness one has to acknowledge that even under British rule conditions were not as scandalous, unfair and corrupt as they are now, after eleven years of continuous rule by the incompetent and cleptocratic regime of Fianna Fáil and their coalition partners.

While ministers, senior civil servants and self-serving spongers like Rody Molloy are living the life of Reilly at our expense, the majority of Irish people are robbed left, right and centre by an unholy coalition of the government, the banks, the insurance companies and many other private businesses.

Life in general, and everything connected with it, is on average at least twice as expensive in Ireland than it is in other EU countries. And I am not even talking about the newer members of the union in the east and south-east of Europe. Anywhere in Europe - from Austria to the UK - people have a better quality of life, at half of the costs (or even less) than people in Ireland have to pay.

We have the highest insurance rates - for people, houses, cars and everything else - as well as the most expensive food, drinks, supplies, fuels and utility services. Our infrastructure is of 19th century standard, but we are charged more than twice for public transport, electricity, gas and communication services than anyone else in Europe.

Even with house prices falling now, the purchase of a home here is still between two and three times more costly than on the Continent. And rents, although falling as well now, are twice as high as in most of the other EU countries. Not to mention that tenants on the Continent have plenty of rights and protection from exploitation and rogue landlords, while there are still no proper tenant rights in Ireland.

In 86 years of running our own affairs no Irish government has made the slightest effort to improve the living and general conditions for our people. However, since a majority of Irish voters keeps electing the same incompetent and corrupt people - many from the same 'political' families - and the same old parties over and over again, we probably deserve nothing better.

"Every country has the government it deserves," a wise old philosopher wrote a very long time ago. And his words are still correct.

If we want change, we have to stop being lazy fools, get up from our chairs and do something about it. The Americans have just elected a new President, whose main message is "Hope and Change". If we want to see some new hope for a better future, and a change of our political and social conditions, we have to do the same and elect new people with fresh ideas, people who are capable of change and untarnished by the corrupt and cumbersome system that drags us down, but makes politicians rich and complacent.

We don't know when the next general election will be called. Theoretically the government has still 3 1/2 years of leeway, although I very much doubt that they will last that long.

But next year we have local government elections coming up, and the election of the members of the European Parliament. These are the first opportunities to show what we really want. We can kick the incompetent Councillors from the old parties out and fill our county and city councils with new people of different parties, or - even better - Independents.

Waterford has done this already in 2004. Of the 15 Councillors on Waterford City Council four are now Independents, while there is only one man from Fianna Fáil left. The Council shows a healthy mix of people's views, with four seats for Fine Gael, three for the Labour Party, two for Sinn Féin and one for the Workers' Party.
I very much hope that the rest of Ireland will follow Waterford's example and make sure that Fianna Fáil and the Green Party are told where to go: home, and out of business.

But this will of course not solve the problem of the criminal increase in health insurance. I would advise to make your anger felt and heard as much as it is possible. Write letters to newspapers, call Live Line and your local radio stations, and speak with your constituency TDs, regardless of their party.
Express your anger, your thoughts and feelings, and let the TDs know that you will hold them responsible for what happens.

It might not make the rises disappear, but perhaps one can bring them down to an affordable level.
Even though Mary Harney has relinquished her intervention right, a simple act of government could reinstate it, or introduce other measures.

VHI is a large, solid and wealthy organisation, which has extorted more than enough money from the Irish people over the past years.
And Quinn Healthcare (formerly BUPA Ireland) is part of the Quinn Insurance Group, privately owned by Sean Quinn (above) from Co. Fermanagh, Ireland's richest man with a personal fortune of over € 4 billion.
He became a billionaire on the backs and with the money of Ireland's sick people. And he still rakes in massive profits. So he can well afford to show some generosity to our sick and elderly, especially at a time when the country is in a serious recession that makes most of us poorer.

And you can of course always switch your insurance to another company. Even though VHI and Quinn are the two largest in Ireland, there are others as well.

For example, Hibernian Health has said today that it has "no plans to increase its health insurance premiums at this time". That is a piece of good news at last, in this sea of scandals.

This is still a free country with a free market, so shop around and select the best option available. One of the worst traits of Irish people is inflexibility, which leads to the ridiculous attitude of preferring "the devil you know" to anyone else.
If we stick to that sort of thinking, we can as well hand over all our money to those who are out to rob the poor for the benefit of the rich.

And as under EU laws the insurance markets are deregulated, you could even obtain insurance cover from a company outside of Ireland. Look and shop around, search on-line and talk to an independent advisor. There are better ways than just resigning yourself to the apparent 'powers to be'.

Ireland is in general a great little country, full of decent people. If they all combine their will, initiative and power as citizens, consumers and voters, we can and will see a change for the good. If not, we can as well pronounce Brian Cowen Taoiseach for life, swallow 40 sleeping tablets and jump into the next deep river.

The Emerald Islander

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